Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, is demonstrating what real leaders do in a time of crisis. The deadly attack on two mosques that left 50 people dead last week in Christchurch was a horrendous example of the rise of terrorism—specifically white supremacism—around the world. And Ardern is responding in a way that serves as a role model for real leadership.
Though she has been in office less than 18 months and earned mixed reviews over how she’s handled the job overall, on crisis management, Ardern is demonstrating great leadership.
The 38-year-old came into office as part of a wave of progressive, young leaders that include France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau. The Jacindamania surrounding her political rise inspired New Zealand’s people to participate politically and follow her lead as citizens.
“Ms. Ardern is emerging as the definitive progressive antithesis to the crowded field of right-wing strongmen like President Trump, Viktor Orban of Hungary and Narendra Modi of India, whose careers thrive on illiberal, anti-Muslim rhetoric,” wrote journalist Sushil Aaron in the New York Times op-ed Why Jacinda Ardern Matters.
Her courage played out immediately by standing up to the hateful act in a way seldom seen by many of our current world leaders. She took an important stand in refusing to mention the shooter’s name and deny him the very recognition he sought from this despicable act. Surprisingly, much of the media has followed her lead.
With just 5 million citizens, today nearly one in four Kiwis own a gun. That could change as early as next week when Ardern is expected to unveil proposals to reform gun laws in response to the attack. Though the country doesn’t have the equivalent of a Second Amendment protecting gun rights nor a National Rifle Association lobby for them, she is not backing down to the likely opposition she will face.
In a news conference she said the attack had not happened because their country was a safe harbor for hate, or racism or extremism.
“We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things,” she said. “Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.”
She demonstrated compassion not only in her statements but in her actions, such as wearing a black scarf when she comforted families of the victims—despite the negative reaction from many Western countries regarding Muslim women’s headgear.
Ardern said President Trump called to offer condolences and asked what support the United States could offer New Zealand.
“Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities,” she told him. Ardern recognizes that thoughts and prayers will do her country nothing more than it does in the United States after a mass shooting.
This young leader from a tiny country in the South Pacific is demonstrating the kind of courageous and compassionate leadership that is necessary in both business and politics. Will Kiwis respond by adopting gun regulations to prevent further tragedies? Will people around the world respond by demonstrating compassion and respect for those of the Muslim faith?
Ardern is combating bigotry and hatred that requires more than greater gun regulation and law enforcement. She is also focusing on addressing the cultural change necessary to confront our social divisions. And this will take time and patience.
Let’s demand the kind of courage and compassion Ardern is modelling from all our leaders in business and politics.